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NEWS | Vol. 28, No. 5, May 27, 2010
(Three's Company)

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Hiding Behind Hotlines

by Ryne Ziemba

Is BP Saving Money By Letting Wildlife Die?

With the first tar balls washing up on the shores of the Florida Keys and the first oiled animals reported on the shores of Destin, it appears that Florida has begun to see the ecological effects of the great BP oil spill in the Gulf of Mexico. Fortunately for the wildlife, many who work in the fields of biology, veterinary medicine and environmental science are often individuals who possess a great deal of dedication to the complex systems of life.

Many have already come, or are planning to come to our area to help minimize the impact of environmental devastation that this oil spill is projected to have on wildlife in the area. Unfortunately for Gulf Coast wildlife, scientists wanting to help must maneuver a complex web of BP's bureaucratic nightmare of hotlines, which has made helping injured animals extremely difficult for some.

Veterinary Technician Jakob Dennis believes that BP plans to let oiled animals die since it will save the company money. Dennis left his job rehabilitating wildlife in South Florida in order to come and help out in Northwest Florida. He told the IN that he is very qualified, has graduated from a veterinary technology program and, aside from rehabilitating wildlife in South Florida, he has also volunteered for a program that rehabilitated wildlife in Africa.

Dennis came to Destin recently to try to work with the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, which received its first oiled bird last week. He went to BP-sponsored HAZMAT training that he was told several weeks ago he would need in order to work with any wildlife affected by the oil spill. The training that Dennis attended just a few days ago was specifically for veterinary professionals and other scientists who are going to be collecting data.

"An odd part of my training was that they talked about if you saw any oiled animals on the beach, you weren't allowed to handle them," Dennis said. "If you saw them, all you were allowed to do was to call a number and refer them to the BP hotline, because they told us that if we pick up or touch any wildlife, we're the ones who are liable if the animal dies."

It may seem perplexing that those in specialty HAZMAT training, many of whom were veterinarians, were being told this, but Dennis reiterated, "They told us several times that we weren't allowed to touch any animals--that we were supposed to call a hotline."

However, on the same day that Dennis went to report for duty at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge, he was told that he had to volunteer for BP for three months before he could work with any animals, even though he was a trained professional who had relocated to the area just for this purpose.

This just happened to be on the first day that the Destin-based refuge received its first oiled bird. The pelican came in and was oiled, but those who were working at the refuge weren't allowed to treat the bird beyond starting it on fluids.

Dennis elaborated that "they weren't allowed to wash or administer activated charcoal, which is what you usually do when a bird has ingested toxins. It's usually standard protocol for any bird that comes in."

Instead, the workers at the refuge had to follow BP's protocol and call the BP hotline for injured wildlife. However, when they called BP's hotline, no one answered. They waited for someone to call back, which eventually happened--a staggering four hours later.

Dennis explained that birds are very sensitive and can stress easily. Stress, he explained, is the number one killer of birds that are being treated. Therefore, treating an injured bird is extremely time-sensitive.

Dennis spoke with a woman who worked at the Emerald Coast Wildlife Refuge who said that the same thing happened previously when the refuge received its first oiled animal: a sea turtle.

"BP told them that they should wait a minimum of three hours before they do anything anyway, with any oiled patient, because they want them to 'stabilize.'" Dennis said it was unclear what "stabilize" meant in these situations. "Waiting three hours to me is really insane--intentionally."

When asked why he thought BP might be keeping veterinarians' hands tied in these time-sensitive matters, Dennis claimed, "As soon as they administer medication, as soon as they start an IV drip, start activated charcoal, wash a bird, anything where they're handling this animal--that is the BP tab running. It's much cheaper for BP to let some wildlife die."

This could point to the possibility that BP, by encouraging veterinarians to not act during time-sensitive situations, is allowing the oiled animal to die before treatment can be given, thus saving the multi-national corporation the expense of having to rehabilitate the wildlife.

Dennis also added that it has been next to impossible to figure out who he should contact in order to get clearance from BP so that he can use his training to help save injured animals. He said he is repeatedly referred back to BP's seemingly ineffectual hotlines.

"It's not a lack of resources, it's not a lack of people wanting to come help," Dennis said. He did add that he understands that there must be necessary training for those wishing to work with animals, yet he also expressed concern regarding the obstacles BP has placed in front of those hoping to help.

"They're making it close to impossible to qualify to even do anything with animals, and I'm just horrified."

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Editor's note: After this report was submitted, the IN learned the brown pelican had died at Tri-State Bird Rescue and Research center in Pensacola. Tri-State has been hired by BP to deal with the birds injured by the BP oil disaster.